Those who take care of others need periodic respite to recharge for duty. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent taking care of a new baby, if you’re a husband or wife taking care of a chronically ill spouse, or if you are an adult child taking care of elderly relatives, respite is necessary to the health and well-being of the caregiver. Care giving is demanding and exhausting.
In the case of new parents, maybe taking turns having complete responsibility for meeting the needs of the baby while the other parent rests, takes a shower, takes a nap, or goes grocery shopping alone will be enough to recharge. At first it is difficult to give up the constant vigilance, but as you become accustomed to releasing a little of the responsibility, you become more relaxed and trusting of the other caregivers, like grandparents, and this gives you the wonderful respite of going out (or staying in) together as a couple.
We have a friend taking care of his wife with Alzheimer’s. Relatives and friends begged to help out, but until things became unmanageable, all offers were refused. Perhaps this is for the best, because now, helpers are bringing in meals, picking up things from the store, and even sitting with his wife for short periods. These new helpers are fresh, and eager to help, when he really needs the respite.
When my parents were declining, my sister, who lived near, became concerned about our parents taking their medicines and following doctor’s orders. She took our parents to doctor appointments, went over several times daily to make sure they took their medications on time, and made sure they ate on a regular basis. At first it was easy to maintain the illusion that my parents were still independent. My brother lived near, and often stopped in, but primary care was up to my sister.
I would go up once a month and spend a few days, giving my sister a much-needed break. But as my parents health continued to decline, my sister fussed that my brother wasn’t helping enough. We came up with a plan to include my brother in care giving, and he was perfectly happy to give his time and attention. He just needed to know his help was desired.
My once a month visits, became every two-week, and eventually every week, until finally, the last two months of their lives I moved in with them. My sister and I would take turns, so every other night, at least one of us had a chance at getting a full nights sleep. My brother would come by at least once a week, plus Saturday afternoons. We all cooperated, we all helped, there was never a feeling that one person was expected to do everything. We all wanted to help, and be there for our parents. Our spouses also helped with household things that needed to be done.
Even with sharing the responsibility of care giving, there were times when I would fight my sister to go get some rest. There were times they had to fight with me to just go and get some respite. I was away from home. I found a nearby church where I could enjoy the quiet of the beautiful sanctuary and pray. Across the street was a little restaurant. I would also go to an afternoon movie. On one of these outing I got sick (food poisoning?). I could not be near my parents, all I wanted was to be left alone. Thank goodness we had a team and a system in place when this happened.
As physically and emotionally difficult as it was to be with our parents while they were dying, we were so glad we could be the ones to take care of them and ease their suffering. Those last days with them were very precious.
If you know someone serving as a caregiver to others, you can take a meal, or even just a dessert, run some errands, do some household chores, or spend a few hours giving them a brief break so they can recharge. If you are a caregiver, remember, family and friends really do want to help. It is a blessing to allow them the opportunity to help.